Katherine Adam is the Outreach Coordinator for the Philadelphia GROW Project of the Drexel University School of Public Health, which serves the needs of low-income children. She recently co-authored a book with noted social critic Charles Derber, a Professor of Sociology at Boston College. We’re going to talk with Katherine today about how she become involved in politics and the GROW Project, and how she ended up collaborating with Professor Derber on The New Feminized Majority: How Democrats Can Change America with Women’s Values.
Welcome Katherine. It’s wonderful to have you with us.
Thank you so much for having me.
Let’s get started with finding out more about you. Where did you grow up? What’s your educational background? And what do you do for fun?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where I lived until I went to college. I attended Boston College, where I met Charlie. I studied sociology and music in college, and music is a big hobby of mine. I play cello.
Tell us about the GROW Project.
The Philadelphia GROW Project is a research and advocacy organization within the Drexel University School of Public Health that studies how hunger and poverty affect the cognitive, emotional, and physical development of children under three years old. As the Outreach Coordinator, I engage in direct service with low-income families who are identified as experiencing hunger or basic needs problems.
If I remember right, you had to relocate when you took on this position at the GROW Project. Was that difficult for you?
I was really excited to move to Philadelphia, both because of the city itself and because of the Philadelphia GROW Project. I was really looking forward to working with women and children in Philadelphia, and getting to know a new place.
How did you get involved in politics?
When I moved to Boston for college, I didn’t know a single person. I starting volunteering for the Howard Dean campaign as a way to meet other progressives and make friends. I got involved in my college Democrats group and volunteered on over a dozen campaigns, then secured an internship with Senator John Kerry.
What is it about the Democratic Party that makes you believe in them and what they can do for the future of America?
Since the days of FDR, the Democratic Party has been the force in politics fighting for those who don’t have a voice, Although Charlie and I are critical about many things about the party, we feel strongly that putting Democrats in office is a critical part of creating progressive social change.
What role did you play in Howard Dean’s and John Kerry’s campaigns? What was it like?
I participated in work on the ground—going door-to-door, making phone calls, doing visibility, organizing other volunteers. The energy of a presidential campaign is addictive!
Are you still involved in campaigning?
I might get more involved when the general election rolls around, but for now, I’m really interested in writing about politics.
Let’s move on to The New Feminized Majority. Now, Charlie and you knew one another before collaborating on this book. Is that correct?
The book is an adaptation of my Boston College undergraduate thesis, for which Charlie was my advisor.
When and why did the two of you decide to write The New Feminized Majority?
I’ve always been really interested in the intersection between gender and politics, especially how gender dynamics play out in the Democratic Party. I started writing in the fall of 2007, at a time when the primary season was just getting into full swing. I worked with Charlie all school year, and then we adapted the project into a book the summer after my college graduation.
This is your first published book. Are you excited? How has the experience of seeing The New Feminized Majority published differed for you than for Charlie, who has authored several books?
Well, you’ll have to ask Charlie how this experience has been for him! But, for me, this has been the most exciting experience of my life. When I started writing the thesis, I was just grateful that BC was giving me the time and space to research such an interesting subject. I loved the conversations Charlie and I would have in our thesis meetings. Even if the work was never published, it still would have been an incredibly worthwhile project. However, it is pretty cool to see it on the shelves.
Tell us what this book is all about and why it is important for the 2008 election cycle?
The book is a reexamination of moral politics through the lens of gender. We show that a rising feminized majority—made up of mostly women, but also millions of men—will be the defining element in this election. Like the evangelicals, feminized voters are values voters, only their values tend to be progressive and inclusive. Women’s history of oppression, combined with their fights for liberation, have created what we term feminized values. These include empathy, cooperation, and a preference for non-violent solutions to conflicts. Gender gap data show that women form political opinions with these values in mind. In contrast, men’s history of political and economic dominance socialize men into a system of masculinized values, including aggression and individualism.
It’s important to understand that gendered values are not embedded in a person’s DNA. One’s values, including values linked to gender, are open to variance and change. Men can adopt feminized values, and millions have.
Women’s increasing progressivism won’t lead to a battle of the sexes showdown. In fact, millions of men are following the feminized progressive example, holding opinions on issues that match those held by a majority of women. This points to the reason Obama or Clinton needs to pay close attention to gendered values: for the first time, feminized values—which are progressive, community-minded, and often closely aligned with Democratic Party policy—are now held by a majority of Americans.
While gender gaps still exist, a large enough minority of men support feminized principles to make them majoritarian. We find these values reflected in issue after issue, in poll after poll. From ending the Iraq War to funding stem cell research, from raising the minimum wage to adopting government-sponsored universal healthcare, the feminized position is the majoritarian position—which means it is the winning position.
This election seems a bit unique in that we have a minority and a woman vying for the Democratic nomination. Both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are attractive to women voters, so how does that impact this year’s political scene?
It’s interesting that Obama has garnered so much support from women, considering that his opponent is a woman. However, gendered values—whether espoused by female or male candidates—are what count in this primary election.
Right now, Obama has just swept the Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. primaries. Did this surprise you? Why do you believe Obama was able to take all three? [Author’s note: Obama had an 11 state winning streak until this week, when Clinton won the primaries in Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas.]
I think we were all a little surprised at Obama’s momentum. Clinton had such an advantage at the beginning of the season, I don’t think anyone expected Obama to win every race in February. However, he has done an incredible job at conveying feminized values to voters, which has made all the difference in these battles. Women make up almost 60 percent of Democratic primary voters, and Obama has connected with women voters in ways most people didn’t think possible with Clinton in the race.
Do you feel the scandals revolving around the Clinton presidency and Bill Clinton’s stumping for his wife have anything to do with how poorly Hillary faired in the Potomac?
Not really. Clinton’s losses stem from the fact that Democratic voters don’t feel she represents the feminized change they seek. Clinton’s campaign worked hard to portray her as “tough”, ready to be commander-in-chief in a dangerous world. Democratic voters haven’t responded favorably to this style. They seek a leader who espouses the values of community, empathy, and diplomacy.
The New Feminized Majority offers a three step plan for Democrats to secure victories in 2008 and beyond. Can you briefly describe this plan?
First, Democrats need to adopt a values-centered strategy based on feminized morality. Democrats have shied away from values politics for too long. Second, Democrats need to renounce the masculinized morality of the current political atmosphere and present an alternative. Americans want change, and Democrats should harness this energy. Third, Democrats need to motivate disengaged voters to become part of the movement. The feminized majority includes many Independents and non-voters. They are crucial to Democratic victory.
When the Democrats won both house of Congress in 2006, do you think voters were sending a message to the Republicans?
Absolutely, and I think the message is clear: no more immoral and illegal wars. Once the general election rolls around, it will be interesting to see if John McCain defends the War in Iraq and promotes strikes in Iran. My guess is that Republicans will try to change the subject. The Democratic nominee needs to make sure to push McCain hard on these issues.
If there was only one point from The New Feminized Majority that readers could walk away with, what point would you want that to be?
The Feminized Majority should make Americans optimistic about the future. Although feminized values are rooted in women’s socialization, they are inclusive and benefit everyone. It will be a great day in America when we elect a truly feminized president.
Where can readers purchase a copy of The New Feminized Majority?
Do you have other writing projects planned for the future?
Not until at least after November.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Thanks again for your interest in the book!
Thank you, Katherine for spending so much time discussing your book and your ideas with us. I wish you much success.